Antibody-producing cells display a special form of regulation whereby each cell produces immunoglobulin from only one of its two sets of antibody genes. This phenomenon, called allelic exclusion, is thought to be mediated by the product of one heavy chain allele restricting the expression of the other. Heavy chains are synthesized in two molecular forms, secreted and membrane bound. In order to determine whether it is specifically the membrane-bound form of the immunoglobulin M (IgM) heavy chain (mu) that mediates this regulation, transgenic mice were created that carry a human mu chain gene altered so that it can only direct the synthesis of the membrane-bound protein. The membrane-bound form of the human mu chain was made by most of the B cells in these animals as measured by assays of messenger RNA and surface immunoglobulins. Further, the many B cells that express the human gene do not express endogenous mouse IgM, and the few B cells that express endogenous mouse mu do not express the transgene. Thus, the membrane-bound form of the mu chain is sufficient to mediate allelic exclusion. In addition, the molecular structures recognized for this purpose are conserved between human and mouse systems.

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